Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

RSPB Cymru Land Use Manager, Arfon Williams, talks about the need for a sustainable farming policy that will work for wildlife and farmers.

With growing concern about the ecological crisis and climate emergency, everyone is starting to try and make sense of what all of this means for us in Wales. One thing is becoming clear - all is not well in our countryside. We’re starting to realise that our green pastures, rolling hills and rugged uplands, whilst being incredibly attractive, are not indicators of a healthy, resilient environment or a country brimming with wildlife.

In fact, Wales is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. A third Welsh birds are declining, and one in 14 of all wildlife species is under risk of extinction.

Why is nature important to us?

This worrying state of nature should be a real concern to all of us. Nature provides us with the services and natural resources on which we depend. These are also known as ‘public goods’. These include the water we drink, the air we breathe, soils to grow our food and habitats that lock up atmospheric carbon to help tackle climate change. We need nature a lot more than it needs us.

However, when we look at nature, and farmland nature in particular, the evidence shows it’s not in great shape. All our soils, apart from woodland, are degrading and many of our rivers and lakes are not meeting good status. Iconic farmland species like curlew have declined by more than 75% in the last 25 years. Natural Resources Wales has clearly stated that none of our ecosystems (our life support) are resilient.

There are many reasons for this, from climate change to invasive non-native species. However, changes to the way we manage the land is one of the key factors. Poorly conceived farming policy, like the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), was introduced to increase food production. Little thought was given to protecting the environment, and this has driven unsustainable farming practices in many parts of Wales.

Opportunity for change?

Leaving the EU presents us with a unique opportunity to address this failed policy. It’s a chance to replace it with something that will help Welsh farmers respond to today’s environmental challenges and in doing so, contribute to the well-being of our and future generations.

The Welsh Government recently launched its second consultation, (Sustainable Farming and our Land) on future farming in Wales. We’re pleased to see that the Government is committed in creating a forward-thinking and sustainable farming policy that uses tax payers’ money to promote sustainable food production and reward farmers for restoring and maintaining nature.

While farming in ways that produces sustainable food, protects nature and delivers public goods for society is achievable, it’s likely this will be a new way of working to many farmers in Wales. This proposed change in policy may even be consider a threat by some to farming and their livelihoods. This is understandable. After all, we can all find change unsettling. However, we are fortunate in Wales in that we have lots of farmers who are already farming in ways the Welsh Government is seeking to promote. This includes farmers like the members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), who are doing a great job of producing sustainable food and looking after nature and the wider environment.

The NFFN and farmers like them show that food production and environmental management can be combined. Their experience should be used to help the farming sector adapt to change, so that sustainable farming and all the benefits it provides becomes the norm.

How can you support?

You can take part in the consultation using our online action, which includes a pre-written email that you can send immediately or personalise. This is your opportunity to tell the Welsh Government you want nature to be at the heart of this new policy, so everyone who manages the land can do it sustainably and restore nature.